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Wednesday, June 14, 2006 




COMMENTARY

The Caribbean walk of change: The road to social transformation, Part I
Wednesday, June 14, 2006

by Clarence E. Pilgrim

It is said that one of the visible methods for measuring the moral, social and spiritual barometer of a nation or a people is the way it takes care of its poor, disadvantaged and destitute citizens.

As we walk along certain streets in our Caribbean countries, we come face to face with the stark reality that the social strata equilibrium (or lack of it) is indeed an ever-present concern and not simply a passing problem.

There is clearly a need for social re-engineering to face the many societal challenges, and come to grips with the evolving problems such as school discipline, drug abuse, poverty and mental disorders among our young people. It against this back-drop that I am calling for “three cheers” to be given to the initiative to host the first ever meeting of Caribbean Community ministers responsible for Social Transformation. The theme which includes sustainable social development in the Caribbean, will be a part of the discussions being held at the Jolly Beach resort in the state of Antigua & Barbuda.

A critical area which must be focused on is poverty. To get another perspective on the whole question of poverty and the need for a new dimension in the direction of policy-makers, I spoke with the author of "The Golden Fleece Found", a truly Caribbean man, Basil Hill.

He is also fortunate to have traveled to many poor nations. His answer was quick and to the point.

He said that “Poverty is only surpassed by the arms business as far as volume is concerned. Poverty is big business. Before the poor can get even $1, ad agencies have to make their hundreds of thousands, media executives’ salaries have to be paid, administrative costs have to be deducted, shipping costs have to be met, etc and it filters down eventually. So the ratio of funds necessary for implementation to funds received by the recipient is skewed heavily in favor of the administrators.”

The author believes that, so far, the United Nations and the Red Cross have the best success rates for assisting persons in distress. He noted that the U.N. needs to focus more and strengthen its philanthropic wing.

In an interesting addition to the conversation he describes in his new book that the major problems of the world have spiritual roots, which stems in the belief or lack of belief in God.
It is easy to observe that there are many agencies and funds which are set up worldwide with mandates to seek assistance and distribute sustenance to persons in unfortunate circumstances. But there is a very relevant and underlying question which is: Are we winning or losing the battle to eliminate poverty and help the suffering?

The Millennium Development Goals call for halving of poverty, eradication of hunger, control of diseases, provision of clean water and many other basic human needs. Looking at reports about the Millennium Project shows clearly, that there is still a long winding road to travel before we begin seeing the way to achieving these goals.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that these goals will never be realized without the political will and social power needed to effect changes. There are also economic and environmental concerns and functions which are needed to manage the kind of change which would give effect to the overall upliftment of our Caribbean people.

Protecting our habitat, securing our agricultural lands, developing new medicines from the creative use of our plants and making use of new and alternative forms of energy are all important pieces in the Millennium Development puzzle.

Paramount to the success of changing society is the need for non-profit agencies as well as specialized funds to be geared towards eliminating poverty and easing the plight of the disadvantaged.

In the new dispensation of the Caribbean Integration process which involves the creation of a single market and economy, there must be safeguards to help those who are not as developed as their neighbors.

The Regional Development Fund is crucial to the development of the Caribbean integration process. It is intended to provide financial or technical assistance to those countries, regions and sectors which are determined to be adversely affected by the operation of the single market.
The revised treaty defines a disadvantaged country as those in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and Belize which have all been classified as Less Developed Countries (LDC).

It is very important to note that all member states that require special support measures of a transitional or temporary nature due to: natural disasters, the adverse impact of the CSME on their economies, etc have also been included in the category of Disadvantaged Countries.

Another area which is of important concern, and an area that the social transformation ministers can discuss is the proposed Caribbean Catastrophe Insurance Risk Initiative.

It is reported that this initiative “will allow countries of the region to lower the cost of insurance by pooling risks, and provide them with immediate liquidity in the event of a disaster; allow access to additional risk capital through reinsurance or issuance of financial coverage instruments, such as catastrophe bonds; and process claims based on the measurement of the intensity of a predefined natural event in a predefined area over a predefined period, and limited to a predetermined sum per year.”

It is hoped that with proper planning and management this should make it less expensive than traditional insurance since it does not require that the insurer evaluate losses on an indemnity basis. This may be good news for our region which is plagued by natural disasters, with hurricanes at the forefront.

In the first quarter of this century, let us be clear and use our diversity and productivity to have a major impact on the development of humankind. Let us support the efforts of the ministers of Social Transformation. Our Caribbean children and their children should never have to ask the question, Why did we not seize this moment to make a difference?

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